A WEST Somerset dentist whose suspension after a ‘catastrophic’ sex assault allegation was due to expire this month has seen his ban extended by a High Court judge for another year.

The decision came despite a prosecution against him being dropped last September when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) offered no further evidence in the case.

Sitting in Taunton Crown Court, Judge Edward Burgess KC formally entered a not guilty verdict in the matter.

Ajith George Behanan, aged 50, had been charged under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that he ‘intentionally touched a woman aged 16 or over and that touching was sexual when she did not consent and you did not reasonably believe that she was consenting’.

Mr Behanan owns Holloway House Dental Surgery, in Minehead, but has not practised since August, 2022, when the General Dental Council’s Interim Orders Committee (IOC) suspended him for 18 months.

The suspension was due to be lifted this month but two days before it expired a High Court ruling was made to extend it until February, 2025, with a review to be held in May.

The offence had been alleged to have taken place in the surgery on December 11, 2020.

The IOC held a review hearing in November when it decided to continue Mr Behanan’s suspension for the remainder of the 18-month order.

The hearing conducted a risk assessment during which Mr Behanan was represented by lawyer Matthew McDonagh, of Kennedys solicitors, while barrister Victoria Shehadeh presented the case for the General Dental Council (GDC).

The hearing took place in private after Ms Shehadeh said matters would be raised which were personal to Mr Behanan, including his private life and personal financial matters, to which he was entitled privacy.

Ms Shehadeh said reference would also be made to police investigations into other persons linked to the case and ‘for the integrity of the police investigation and in the interests of fairness to the people involved’, it was proper to conduct the review in private session.

The IOC heard the case was being reviewed early at the request of Mr Behanan, following two previous reviews.

Ms Shehadeh told the IOC the position in relation to the level of risk and the seriousness of the allegation had not changed and therefore the suspension should continue in order to protect the public and to address the public interest.

She proposed a number of conditions on Mr Behanan’s registration if the IOC decided to lift the suspension which to some extent would serve ‘a public protection function’ while allowing him to earn a living from the profession.

Mr McDonagh said Mr Behanan had an ‘otherwise unblemished career’ and had never experienced any issues with staff or the public in his many years as an NHS dentist.

He said the complaint had been ‘catastrophic’ to Mr Behanan ‘both personally and financially’.

Mr Behanan had been in India until a week before the hearing and returned because the GDC said it intended to revoke the suspension order and impose a conditional registration.

However, Kennedys was then informed the intention had changed ‘with no reason given’.

Mr McDonagh said a regulator should ‘act with thought and consistency in its discharge of its statutory duty’ but in Mr Behanan’s case, he felt the GDC had not done so.

He said Mr Behanan had lost revenue and there was a backlog of patients awaiting NHS treatment in his practice area which had been made worse because of the suspension.

Mr McDonagh said the risk level was now below what it was previously but while conditions on Mr Behanan’s registration were preferred to a suspension, the proposed conditions were not workable and he asked for the suspension to be revoked.

IOC chairman Andrea Hammond said the committee bore in mind its overarching objectives to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the dental and dental care professions while promoting proper professional standards and conduct for dental care workers.

Ms Hammond said the allegations against Mr Behanan were serious and although the CPS case had halted, the committee did not consider there to be any change in the level of risk previously identified.

She said the committee was satisfied there was ‘a prima facie case and there is cogent evidence before it’.

It was not in dispute that an incident took place and while the committee noted Mr McDonagh’s submissions regarding the reliability of the witnesses, any dispute regarding their motivation was not for the IOC, but for the Professional Conduct Committee at a later stage.

Ms Hammond ruled that in light of the information before it, the committee agreed an interim order remained necessary to protect the public because there remained a risk of harm should Mr Behanan be permitted to practise without restriction.

She said the committee considered ‘a well-informed member of the public would be shocked and surprised to find that a dentist in a position of power and authority had participated in an inappropriate and unprofessional incident with a colleague in the workplace and was permitted to practise unrestricted while those allegations were investigated by the GDC’.

The conditions on registration proposed by Ms Shehadeh were not considered to offer enough protection to the public and therefore the suspension should continue.

Ms Hammond told Mr Behanan: “The committee notes the continuation of this interim suspension order prevents you from practising as a dentist pending the GDC’s investigation into the allegations.

“It noted the considerable financial and professional impact the interim suspension order has had on you, but given the serious nature of the allegations against you, the committee is satisfied that the need to protect the public and the wider public interest outweigh your own interests at this time.”

The Free Press has approached Mr Behanan’s legal representatives for a response